Book Reflection: Bird By Bird

Category: By Christian

My first experience with Anne Lamott was when I was taking an introduction to Theology class and we read Operating Instructions. It was refreshing to find an author who could write about faith in a way that was real and not stuffy. It was also refreshing to drop in on the thoughts of a Christian who was a little rough around the edges and had a pretty neurotic internal monologue going on. It made me feel a little more normal.

Now, Lamott is not for everyone. She is very readable, but her swearing can sometimes get people worked up a little bit. Not everyone has a conversion experience that includes dropping an F-Bomb, and I get how that can make some folks uneasy. I find it to be slightly charming. I'm not a big swearer myself, but there are people out there who know how to get the most out of a well-placed profanity. Snoop Dogg does not fall into this camp, but Lamott and Bono sure do. I've always said that if Christians acted more like Bono (uttering an occasional swear word while attacking poverty with a vengeance), the church would be a much better place.

I picked up Bird By Bird after reading a passage at a friend's Christmas party late last year, and decided I had to read it. It's technically about writing, though in actuality it touches on a number of different life issues. One of the things I appreciated about the read was how much Lamott stressed that people should write for the joy of writing. Not to get published. Not to become famous. Write to write. It's a great lesson for someone like myself who has to keep the old ego in check on a regular basis, because it is liberating to remember that it's a good idea to do things just for the sake of doing them and not with any intention of adulation.

The other part of the book that was really telling for me was the section on perfectionism. "Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived." (28) The great thing about the demons behind perfectionism is that it forces us into one of two destructive habits. Some of us deal with it by pretending we are perfect even if there are tons of messes around. Others of you work yourselves into such a tizzy by doing way more than is necessary because you refuse to accept the fact that you are not perfect. Both of those behaviors have their issues. Both manifest themselves in the church all over the place. Both need to be deconstructed if our churches are going to function as an outpouring of God's grace and Good News.

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